British experts arrived in the Nigerian capital on Friday to help find at least 276 girls being held by Islamic militants in northeastern Nigeria as an international effort began taking hold.
The experts were expected to work closely with U.S. officials and agents in the search for the missing girls, the British government said as Boko Haram militants continued to stage attacks in northeastern Nigeria. China and France have also promised help, and the deputy prime minister of Spain, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, told reporters in Madrid on Friday that her government had decided to make available a specialist team from the police to assist, if Nigeria approves.
Britain said its aim was not only to help with the current crisis but to defeat Boko Haram.
“The team will be considering not just the recent incidents but also longer-term counter-terrorism solutions to prevent such attacks in the future and defeat Boko Haram,” the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said in a statement Friday.
A local government official confirmed that the Islamic extremists bombed a bridge linking the town of Gamboru to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, the headquarters of the Nigerian military offensive. Gamboru was attacked on Monday by Boko Haram, leaving many dead. Estimates of the death toll from that attack ranged from 100 to as many as 300.
Communications with the remote town are difficult and it was not immediately possible to reconcile conflicting accounts of when the bridge was bombed. One account said Monday while another said Thursday.
The bombing of the bridge would prevent army convoys reaching Gamboru while leaving the way open for the insurgents to escape across a strategic bridge into neighboring Cameroon — a bridge leading into mountains where the militants are known to have hideouts in caves.
The mass kidnapping of the schoolgirls has focused the world’s attention on Boko Haram, and on the many civilian victims of the extremists.
President Goodluck Jonathan said at an economic forum on Thursday: “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.”
However his government stands accused of being slow to mount operations to rescue the girls, who were kidnapped on April 15.
Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law on Nigeria, abducted more than 300 girls from a boarding school in the northeast town of Chibok. On Thursday the government of Borno state, where Chibok is located, identified 53 girls who escaped, potentially subjecting the girls to stigma in this conservative society.
The government said in a statement received Friday that the 53 girls it identified by name include those who fled the day they were kidnapped and those who escaped from Boko Haram camps days later.
Borno’s government did not explain the decision to name the girls.
Chibok residents are staging a street protest Friday to press Borno’s government to do more to find the missing girls.
Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people this year.
Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.